Fork off! Preserving gaming communities with blockchain technology

tl;dr: player histories are preserved when communities decide to leave an official server for an unofficial one!

In my 2019 blogs you should notice an obvious theme: decentalised gaming. While I think I’ve covered a wide range of topics already, I’ve been coming up with many more ideas to write about. I just can’t type quick enough!

In this piece I had a partially formed idea that I was almost able to grasp, but the real benefit just crystallised last night. Many thanks to Kijun for making it obvious! His team is currently building the decentralised game Nine Chronicles which featured in my previous blog: Trusted trade-offs in blockchain gaming.

An in-game screenshot of combat in 9C (see previous blog).

Kijun from Planetarium:

The possibility of “forking” the universe which really gives an evolutionary option for virtual communities to develop under varied philosophies. Being able to “opt out” is one of the key values of decentralization in my opinion, since there is more you can do than just complaining about the state of the “world”.

The big idea: communities can fork away if they don’t like how a game has evolved.

What’s unique here: only with blockchain technology can you easily preserve the full history of player actions since those can be stored on-chain (it’s trustless). No more will your grinding be for naught should you choose to switch to another server! 🚀

In the remainder of this piece I will illustrate why this is an intriguing aspect of decentralised gaming, and why we can use the technology to overcome the drawbacks of traditional online games.

Old World; Old Problems. 👎

There is a long history of players modifying games to suit their own tastes. There are even clone versions of popular games that you can play for free: Open Source Game Clones.

A recent example of modding a once-popular MMO came up on my Twitter feed:

Tweet about a new SWG community server

Despite official servers being offline for years, there is still a hardcore community for StarWars Galaxies that run their own servers. Running a public unofficial server is not new here, but running such servers is a huge hassle. Coordinating and launching the server is one thing, but actually creating the code for the server required experts to reverse engineer the game. The code for the game is closed source, which is not something we see in the blockchain space.

As with anything closed source, you can guess that any community running such a server is taking on legal risk.

Taking on technical hassle and legal risk is a rather large hurdle to overcome for many communities. In process of trying to migrate from an official server to an unofficial server you can expect to lose a lot of community members. If there is a split the community there is generally a good reason for it (e.g. the feeling of being ignored by the developers). Unfortunately, those who split away are faced with losing all of their progress (items, experience points, quest/story progress).

However, there is another way….

New World; New Possibilities! 🚀

That’s the old traditional world of online gaming, but how will it be for fully decentralised games?

With open source games, the community can legitimately run their own servers. Assuming that the license doesn’t forbid this, eyebrows should be raised if this is forbidden, then you might ask is it enough that the code is simply source and forget about the blockchain part?

There would be no need to reverse engineer the code and no need to take on legal risk, which is great; however, any progress made on a previous server is lost. Naturally, this is where blockchain technology can make open source gaming better. Assuming that the game has a fully decentralised architecture (like Nine Chronicles or Taurion), where full player histories are stored publicly on-chain, then players can resume their progress on a community server after a fork.

This mitigates most of the headaches that come with creating a community server. Of course, there are still the headaches of coordination and a split player-base. Potentially, new features that are added or tested on a forked game can be added into the original game if they turn out to be great features.

Running a test net full player history may even allow for interesting economic simulations and scenario prediction that previously could only be done by the developers, but now it could be done more easily by the community!

This is perhaps an essential aspect of ‘true ownership’ that’s overlooked.

Decentralised gaming allows communities to live on and thrive regardless of what the developers do.

I think that’s something to both champion and celebrate! 💪 🎉

A screenshot of a large PVP battle in Taurion (image source)

Summary

Among the many benefits that I think blockchain technology brings to gaming, this may end up being one of the more important ones. Here is a quick summary of the main points:

Old World

  • Private source code, so must reverse engineer.
  • Private game state, so can’t fork to preserve progress.
  • Closed-source license, so there is a legal risk.

New World

  • Open source, so easy to clone the game code and run a fresh.
  • Public game state, so can fork and preserve progress.
  • Open source software license, so legal risk is minimised.

There are a few risks that I outlined in a previous blog: Governance of and incentives for a Web 3 game.

About me

Currently, I work at the Web3 Foundation (mainly running the grants program). This blog is of a personal nature. It just so happens that my hobby aligns with work.

One of the main projects of the foundation is the Polkadot network. A next generation blockchain platform. To read more about the innovation that Polkadot is bringing to the blockchain industry I invite you to read the following blog post: link.

Questions / Comments?

You can create a reply to me here on Medium, or reach out to me on Twitter: @EAThomson.

Blockchain, Gaming, Web 3. (previously: https://web3.foundation)